As I write, the Golden State Warriors are less than 24 hours removed from an enormous Game 3 victory on the road at Portland behind Steph Curry's 36 points and Draymond Green's triple-double, meaning that unless every single player on the team gets hurt and possibly dies, they have essentially booked a spot in the NBA finals for the fifth straight season. The Blazers may find their pride for a last stand in Game 4, or they may fizzle out and fade quietly, but it's almost impossible to imagine this series lasting beyond five games, and it's literally impossible to imagine the Warriors blowing a 3-0 lead. Seriously, I just tried—I can't do it. I imagined eating some candy instead.
Even more impressive, the Warriors have done it without Kevin Durant. This is basically the 2016 Warriors all over again, and they haven't seemed to lose . . . anything. Time and age and misfortune happen to us all, but even though the Dubs have dealt with all three in the last month alone, and it's not at all crazy to wonder if we're near the end of this dynastic ride, nothing seems to slow their roll in 2019. It's no surprise that the entire NBA world basically treats a fourth title in five years as a fait accompli—who's going to beat them?
Well, look at this tweet:
What if we look at the records, and consider that the Bucks were the best team in basketball, better than the Warriors by three games? What if we consider that they're currently up 2-1 on the second-best team in the league, and almost 3-0? What if they have the best player in the entire sport (sorry, everyone who isn't Giannis)? What if they have a stunning amount of depth, which makes them arguably the best second-half team in the league and routinely gives them wins even when the first half is a dud? What if they have the best defensive efficiency? The best defensive rebounding rate? The most blocks per game? What if they make more threes per game than any team but the Rockets?
What if, pound for pound, they are clearly not just the league's best team, but a completely dominant force?
Well, then you'd probably have to pronounce them the favorites to win the title. Right?
That is clearly not happening—it's not that there's overt "paper tiger" talk (though many thought the Bucks were doomed after their one and only loss to the Celtics last round), but just a general lack of recognition that these guys are really, really good. I don't absolve myself of guilt here—sure, I called them the NBA league pass team of the year way back in October, but just two weeks I wrote of a potential Bucks title, "why does it still feel so far-fetched?" The answers to that are simple: The Bucks are not considered an elite franchise, yet, and everybody still thinks the eastern conference is pitiful. The first is a perception problem, and as for the second, there's no doubt that on balance, the west is a little bit deeper, especially when you look at playoff teams alone. But can we really judge a team's strength by its conference?
Instead, what if we just looked at the Bucks' record against really good teams? They split their season series with Golden State, did the same with Portland, and swept Denver and Houston, going 6-2 against the four best teams in the west. For comparison's sake, Golden State was 3-6 against the four best teams in the east.
Yes, the Warriors are juggernauts, albeit wounded ones. Yes, the superlative success of the Bucks has happened fast, and yes, there hasn't been an Eastern Conference title winner without LeBron on the roster in a decade. But those are all superficial facts that have no real bearing on the present. With Kevin Durant's status uncertain, how are the Bucks not considered heavy favorites to win the NBA title? And yet, not only is there no consensus; the Warriors title is basically taken for granted. That's some major disrespect, and the Bucks will have all the bulletin board material they need as they try to re-write the NBA status quo.
Dumb Scheduling of the Week: The NBA
Hey, NBA, Sunday night featured the most highly anticipated series finale of a television show since Seinfeld. I'm talking about Game of Thrones, of course, and while I recognize that most people didn't have to watch it live, particularly if they have HBO Now or Go, many people will because it's a massive social and cultural event and we want to experience it in real time. (Or, like me, you might have to review the show, and watching it later was not an option . . . I realize this is a limited demographic). That means they'd miss the end of Bucks-Raptors game three. Last week, anyone who opted to watch Thrones live missed this (in Korean, because that's fun):
Why are you doing it to us AGAIN with another 7 p.m. Sunday night start? Respect the Thrones...even if the show kinda sucks now!
The "Boy Did He Need That Win" of the Week: Rafa Nadal
There has been talk among those who are not Rafa Nadal fanboys (i.e., not me) that he's shown a slight predilection for being a sore loser in 2019. He was definitely pissed at losing to Kyrgios in Acapulco, saying, "he lacks respect for the public, the rival and towards himself." But, well, Kyrgios is uniquely antagonistic, to put it politely. More alarming were Rafa's comments after losing to Tsitsipas in Madrid—a total shocker—where he said, "I don’t see myself losing that match if I play the same level that I played in Barcelona...or in Australia at the beginning of the season. That’s my feeling. That’s my truth, maybe it’s not the truth, but that is my feeling."
Is that honesty, or is there some salt there? In any case, heading into Italy—the last event before the French Open—he really needed to take home a clay title and change the narrative from "what's his excuse this time?" to "oh good, he's unbeatable again." And he did it, beating Tsitsipas in the semifinal and surviving an agonizing second-set to get the all-important win against Djokovic, 6-0, 4-6, 6-1. In both matches, he put together a consummate Rafa-on-clay performance, excelling even when he seemed to be on the defensive:
And as that last tweet knows, that was the first 6-0 set in the long history of Rafa vs. Djoker. Now, Rafa heads into Roland-Garros as he's been doing for a decade and more, as the heavy favorite. Only this time, he might be looking at one of his last chances for grand slam hardware.
The "Defense is Sweet" Player of the Week: Ryan Pressly, Astros
Watch how he secured another scoreless inning against the Red Sox:
And just for fun, here's what his curve looks like:
Why do the Astros get every good pitcher? God, I hate them.